If you are new to the ketogenic way of eating, you are probably wondering what you can and cannot eat. Generally speaking, eating keto means eating lots of yummy, wholesome, UNPROCESSED, REAL foods. Today in the Basics Series, I will review 3 foods that are musts to cut and 3 foods that are musts to add.
ELIMINATE all sugars.
Keto is NOT paleo or primal. No maple syrup, no honey, no agave syrup, no raw sugar. There is copious information available on keto-acceptable sugar substitutes, which I will review in a later post. In the beginning, if you can, I recommend cutting all sweet treats to cut the psychological chain while the palate is readjusting. I have made myself a yummy peanut butter and chocolate fat bomb sweetened with erythritol in the case of emergencies.
ELIMINATE all grains and starchy vegetables.
In this regard, keto is similar to paleo, but more extreme. No quinoa or sweet potatoes for keto! No corn, no rice. No flours of any kind, even gluten-free. Flour substitutes like almond flour and coconut flour are meant for rare treats because they do contain enough carbs to prevent ketosis if eaten regularly.
The ketogenic diet targets the removal of foods that trigger an insulin response, namely carbohydrates (sugars, grains and starchy vegetables). Even a small amount consumed while still maintaining macro targets can cause cravings for days! This is very similar to alcoholism. An alcoholic only has control over taking the first drink. Once that is taken, cravings take over and the alcoholic loses control. With sugar, once the insulin spikes and falls, it is so hard to stop!
Most legumes (all beans, peas, etc.) are quite starchy. There are a couple of exceptions, the most controversial of which is the peanut. The peanut, while high in fat like tree nuts, can be a problem for some because it contains a lot of the amino acid arginine which can cause an insulin response. Some people are fine with peanuts. If in doubt, stick with tree nuts and certainly do not over indulge on peanut butter. The paleo diet excludes all legumes. Vegetarians that eat keto integrate some legumes.
ADD lots of fat!
Remember, you are shooting for 75-80% of your calories to come from fat and YOU ARE NOT RESTRICTING CALORIES. That means a woman could be and should be eating 1200-1500 calories a day in fat alone!
Good, healthy fat sources include:
- Good quality butter (ideally grass-fed*) such as Kerry Gold.
- Organic coconut oil.
- Avocados (the fruit and the oil)
- Organic mayonnaise, preferably made with avocado oil
- Ghee (clarified butter – especially useful for those with dairy sensitivities)
- Animal fats: Bacon grease, lard, tallow.
ADD fatty proteins!
No more dry chicken breasts for you! Eat bacon, eggs, marbled meats, dark meat poultry, organ meats (pates!), sausages and fatty fish. When you do eat lean meats like chicken and turkey, ADD FAT. Purchase grass-fed meats* if possible.
If you eat dairy, eat only full-fat versions. Only full-fat sour cream, cream cheese, cheese and Greek yogurt. No milk – only HEAVY CREAM! There are many in the keto movement that eschew dairy saying it can cause an insulin response and that more people are sensitive to dairy than realize. Again, it is an individual thing. Y our skin will likely tell you if dairy is a problem by breaking out.
There are dairy milk substitutes that are keto-friendly, namely almond milk, hemp milk and coconut milk.
ADD non-starchy vegetables (with fat)!
In a well-formulated ketogenic diet, most of your vegetables will be leafy greens (spinach, arugula, romaine, etc.) and cruciferous (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage). They should be the main source of your carbs. Add lots of butter or ghee to cooked veggies, or better yet, a luscious sauce like hollandaise. Put lots of rich dressings on salads such as blue cheese or house-made vinaigrettes with high-quality olive or avocado oil.
A Note on Fruit
Most ketonians eat very little fruit. A few berries here and there. Oh, and avocados which are very fatty. A lot of avocados!
While fructose, the sugar in fruits, does not trigger insulin like processed sugars and grains, it interferes with ketosis because it is processed very quickly by the liver. Remember, the body treats all sugars like TOXINS and furiously works to eliminate them.
* Grass-fed dairy and meats contain more healthy fats than grain-fed cattle products.